Mean Streets was one of Martin Scorsese's first successful films and became a vehicle for a number of young stars. He penned the story and screenplay himself, directing the film on a $500,000 budget. The result was a successful film that even managed to gain the attention and respect of notorious criminals.
The story follows Charlie Cappa, a young man who is trying to make a name for himself on the streets. His uncle is the head of a small crime family that mainly deals in loansharking and Charlie is put to work collecting debts and protection money. Unfortunately, he finds it hard to excel in this line of work because his is too nice of a guy.
He is also dating a woman named Teresa Ronchelli, who is epileptic and his uncle does not approve of. He is friends with several locals, including the young psychopath, Johnny Boy Civello. This friendship begins to conflict with his job when Johnny Boy fails to pay back a debt and Charlie tries to protect him.
The role of Charlie is played by Harvey Keitel in his first major movie role. His friend Johnny Boy is played by Robert De Niro, also one of his earliest film roles. Charlie's uncle, Giovanni, is played by Cesare Danova, a veteran television actor. Charlie's friend, Tony DeVienazo, is played by avid Proval and his girlfriend Teresa is played by Amy Robinson.
The acting in this film is great and I was very impressed by the many early performances. Harvey Keitel plays the conflicted gangster well and appears to show genuine concern for Johnny Boy's welfare. Johnny Boy is played by Robert De Niro perfectly, in a careless and simply insane manner. David Proval plays a very tough and merciless character and appears to show little concern for what will happen to Johnny Boy. Amy Robinson is very sexy in this film as well, and even has some nude scenes.
The entire film takes place in the Little Italy area in New York City. This is not the beautiful New York City that we see in most motion pictures, but rather the ugly and criminal-infested New York City of the 1970s. Charlie's neighborhood is filled with hoodlums and gangsters, adding to the gritty atmosphere of the movie. Numerous scenes take place in Tony's bar, which has bright red lighting that really creates an interesting effect, perhaps representing the conflict that takes place there.
The soundtrack features quite a few hit songs from the era, including hits of the 1960s and early 1970s. The Rolling Stones make several appearances, as well as artists like Eric Clapton and The Shirelles. There is also some Italian music by Giuseppe Di Stefano.
This film is quite violent since it revolves around gangsters. There are several giant brawls involving multiple people, along with gunfights and a lot of obscenities. The ending, in particular, is very disturbing and violent, and this film is not meant to be viewed by children.
Overall, I found the movie quite enjoyable. It launched the careers of several actors and for good reason. If you get the chance to watch this film, it will give you a look at the early work of many actors and even Scorsese.